Palm Harbor man disappears without a trace

10:10 PM, May 28, 2010   |    comments
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Palm Harbor, Florida - Bob Helphrey wasn't the type of guy who would disappear without a trace.

If he was going to be five minutes late, he'd call you an hour beforehand to let you know.  He was responsible and a man of his word.

When Bob told you something, he meant it.

A Desert Storm war hero, Bob always lived a regimented life.  His military background demanded it. Even when he came home stateside, Bob's habits followed him.  He was always on time.  He was organized, and people respected him for it.

Bob often worked two jobs to make life comfortable for his girls.  He was also being recruited to become an Army Ranger.  To an outsider, Bob was as structured as they come.

A family man, he visited his daughters as much as possible.  He loved to pick them up, wrap his arms around them and make the most of their visits, often taking them to swim at his parents' home in Dunedin.  Photographs of Bob smiling with his daughters line the walls and end tables of his parents' house.

That's what makes it all the more impossible to understand how and why Bob disappeared four years ago on May 22, 2006.

No car or body has ever been found.

Bob's father, Dave, shakes his head and looks down at his hands as he explains his frustration and sadness when it comes to his missing son.  "It's very difficult, very difficult. I know I've missed something. I've talked with hundreds [of people], but I don't know what that is. I don't know what I missed," he says.

For Dave and Betty Helphrey, it just doesn't seem possible, that their handsome, dependable son would go missing.

In fact, Bob had a visitation scheduled with his daughters the next day, something he would never, ever miss.

Betty reflects on the times her son would walk through the door. She smiles and tells us,  "I can hear him coming in. 'Mom? Mom?'  He would say it just like that.  We miss him very much."

Longtime Pinellas Sheriff's Office Detective Mike Bailey is thoroughly perplexed.

"There's no vehicle ever found, no bank accounts touched," says Detective Bailey.  "That's it, never seen, never heard from, no e-mails.  Nothing."

Bob's mother hates to admit it, but she knows things will never be the same. 

"I think something terrible has happened and I think Detective Bailey agrees," says Betty.

Detective Bailey has investigated every possibilty he can think of in Bob's case.  He even went as far as contacting the military to see if Bob was on some sort of secret mission.  It was a painfully long quest for the truth, and the military was not forthcoming.

After months of written requests and questions, however, they finally relented.

They confirmed Bob was not on a mission.

So, Detective Bailey began filling in the blanks with those who last saw Bob before he disppeared.

The night he went missing, Bob finished his shift at the Thirsty Marlin on Florida Avenue in Palm Harbor and then walked across the street to Peggy O'Neil's to meet friends. After that, no one heard from Bob ever again.

That is, except for one person: Zach Taylor. Taylor was a friend of Bob's.

Betty and Dave say they found a job application from the Thirsty Marlin filled out by Zach in Bob's apartment.  Zach allegedly spoke to Bob around 2:00 a.m. night the 38-year-old went missing. The two were supposed to meet up after Bob was finished at the bar.   They were going to play video games at Bob's apartment.

That never happened.

Detective Bailey tells us, "In interviewing Zach, he said he'd gone over there in reference to meeting Bob. But Bob never answerd the door.  Zach said he never saw him."

Zach has denied any involvement in the missing persons case, but would not let detectives search his home.

At this point, they consider him a person of interest.

"I think Zach is not coming forward with all the information he has about this," Detective Bailey tells us, as he pours over thick binders full of information and evidence.

Detective Bailey adds, "Bob's parents are tormented by this every day. I think they know something bad happened, don't know what it is. Not a lot of details to give them, very little evidence."

Indeed, Betty and Dave both agree, Bob would never disappear without letting someone know where he was. In addition to his precious daughters, he would never leave his dog at home alone.

They wait each day, hoping the phone will ring, hoping that they'll get that coveted knock at the door.

Deep down, though, they say even with the most positive attitude, they're afraid it will not happen.

Betty admits, "Yesterday was my birthday, and I kept thinking maybe Bob will walk in the door."

And, Dave, who continues his own investigation, tells us, "He has to have, as far as I'm concerned, been harmed."

Detective Bailey says, "It's just not normal.  To have someone disapear for such a very short trip, from Palm Harbor to the other side of Palm Harbor.  He has vaporized and not been seen since."

Left without answers or clues, Betty and Dave Helphrey live each day, waiting and praying, knowing that the lack of answers may indeed be, their only answer.

If you know where Bob Helphrey is, please call Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County at 1-800-873-TIPS. You can remain completely anonymous and receive up to $1,000 for your information.

You can also visit the CrimeStoppers of Tampa Bay website at http://www.crimestoppersofpinellas.org/.

Melanie Brooks, 10 Connects

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